The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Not Sonia, the threat’s more home-spun

New Delhi, Feb.18: The going could get tough for the BJP in states where non-Congress players are strong, if pre-poll surveys and state unit feedbacks are any indication.

The party could have a “relatively smooth” going in straight fights with the Congress. But “home-spun” parties, like the Samajwadi Party, the Rashtriya Janata Dal and the Bahujan Samaj Party, may be the real threats.

The BJP’s admission is that it faced “competition” not so much from the Congress as much as from the remnants of the Janata parivar and some regional parties.

Sources said the inference is backed up with the perception that the Congress was unable to recover from the setback of the December Assembly elections. Party chief Sonia Gandhi is “labouring hard” but ploughing a lonely furrow.

The chances of a win are confined to the Congress-ruled states — Karnataka, Kerala and Delhi. In states where the party was ousted in the Assembly polls — Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan — the Congress is too “demoralised” to be of help to Sonia.

The BJP thinks the other factor that has gone against the Congress is its inability to pin the NDA down on its two USPs: Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and the India Shining campaign. Congress sources conceded their surveys revealed Vajpayee’s popularity rating was at an all-time high of 48 per cent. Sonia was number two with a measly 27 per cent. The surveys showed that even in a state like Uttar Pradesh — where the BJP did badly in the 1999 general elections — voters of most castes were favouring Vajpayee this time as a “mark of penitence”.

The Congress sources said their counter to the India Shining blitz failed to take off as they could not make up their minds on how far they should carry their attack, on what issues they ought to slam the campaign and whether opinion-makers would take kindly to the “left-of-centre” message, implicit in an attack on the overtly pro-middle and upper-class slant to the NDA campaign.

At the micro-level, the BJP felt the Congress had not “hit” on the “right” caste equations in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan after the December defeat. For instance, in Rajasthan, sources claimed that the Rajput-Jat combination — which saw Vasundhara Raje surpass Bhairon Singh Shekhawat’s victory record — was still intact.

In Madhya Pradesh, sources claimed the Congress’ inability to revitalise its social base lay in its failure to strike an alliance with the Gondwana Ganatantra Party, which pocketed the tribal votes in the northwest districts in the Assembly elections.

And, last of all, the BJP’s boast is it is already ahead of its rival in the “mind warfare”. The evidence, the party says, lies in the long list of celebrities queuing outside the BJP headquarters for membership. “The Congress wooed the same people who came to us, whether it was Suresh Oberoi, Navjot Singh Sidhu or Jeetendra. But they know we are way ahead in the race and so opted for the winner,” claimed an office-bearer.

On the flip side, the sources admitted that these “weapons” may not work in states like Uttar Pradesh and Bihar where the BJP will fight, not the Congress, but parties like the Samajwadi Party, the Bahujan Samaj Party and the Rashtriya Janata Dal.

Of the three, the Samajwadi alone injected a dose of glamour in its politics.

“But Mulayam Singh Yadav is still clear that where politics is concerned it is caste alone that will work. And he still has an edge over the rest with his Muslim-Yadav base, supplemented with the Thakurs and Jats of the Rashtriya Lok Dal,” said the sources.

Even Maharashtra has the BJP worried because of the Congress-Nationalist Congress Party alliance, which was non-existent in 1999.

“Our initial assessment was the BJP-Shiv Sena combine would make a clean sweep of the Lok Sabha seats. But Sharad Pawar upset our calculations by making up with Sonia Gandhi,” said a Maharashtra BJP leader.

Likewise, in Tamil Nadu, the BJP appeared rattled by the DMK-led coalition not because of the Congress’ presence in it but because of the feedback that Jayalalithaa may not be able to repeat her Assembly poll performance and because the PMK would give the other side a winning edge.

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